Whether you like it or not, it is now the norm for kids to have their own iPhones. That can be a terrifying thought: An iPhone is a window into the entirety of the internet through apps, Safari, messaging, what have you. Luckily, your child’s iPhone won’t be that. Instead, you can set things up to make sure their iPhone is locked down exactly the way you want it to be. You can choose the contacts your child can communicate with, the apps they can have, how long they can use those apps, and how often they can use their iPhone in the first place.
Add your child to Family Sharing
The first step is to add your kid to Family Sharing. If your kid doesn’t have an Apple ID already, you can create one for them if you’re the “family organizer.” If your kid is 13 or older, they can make an account for themselves, but you can make one regardless.
On iOS 16, open Settings > Family, then tap the Add Member button in the top right. Choose “Create Child Account,” then tap “Continue.” On iOS 15, open Settings, tap your name and go to Family Sharing > Add Member > Create an Account for a Child > Continue.
On both platforms, you can follow the on-screen instructions to set up the account. While everything is self-explanatory, make sure you choose the right age for your child. Of course you know how old your kid is, but seriously: If you mess this up for whatever reason, you won’t be able to change it down the road.
If your kid already has an Apple ID, you can add them to Family Sharing by goin to Settings > Your Name > Family Sharing, then tap the Add Member in the top right. Tap Invite Others, then follow the on-screen instructions.
With iOS 16, you’ll now have the option to set up parental control settings on your kid’s device right away. These options are the same as you’ll see below, only this time it’s all conveniently available when setting up the account for the first time. Whether you’re setting up these items now or after creating their account, let’s take a look at how they work, and what you can do with them.
Setting up your child’s iPhone
To start, pry your kid’s iPhone away from them. On their phone, go to Settings > Screen Time. If you have experience with Screen Time on your personal iPhone, this is going to feel familiar, although you might not choose some of these restrictions for you own needs. This time, tap Turn On Screen Time > Continue > This is My Child’s iPhone, which will let iOS know you’re setting Screen Time up for your child. (Once you’re all done, you’ll be able to lock down your selections so they can’t change them—we’ll get to that part in a bit.)
Set a downtime schedule
The first step is to set up downtime. This feature allows you to choose specific times of day where your child’s iPhone is useless, save for the apps you choose to allow. You choose those soon.
To create a downtime schedule for your kid, tap the toggle next to “Scheduled.” Here, you can choose how to customize this schedule. By default, “Every Day” is enabled, which lets you choose a downtime start and end time that applies to every day of the week. However, if you choose “Customize Days,” you can choose a unique start and end time for each day of the week.
Weekends are an obvious example: You might want your kid’s phone to shut down early on weeknights, but later on Friday and Saturday nights. Maybe your kid has a practice that runs late on Wednesdays, so you add some flexibility to downtime then. It’s really whatever works best for your kid’s schedule.
Choose limits for any and all apps
One of the most powerful tools in your parental control arsenal is the App Limits feature. This option lets you choose how long your kid has access to each app on their iPhone per day. You can choose to give them one hour of Instagram a day, two hours of FaceTime a day, 30 minutes of games a day, etc. When they reach their limit, they won’t be able to use that app until the following day, unless you grant them additional access (more on that in a minute).
Check out “App Limits,” then choose “Add Limit.” Here, categories pop up for all apps on your child’s iPhone. You can choose to apply a limit to entire categories (Games, for example) by tapping the circle next to each category, or you can add limits to particular apps by tapping the category’s arrow to reveal its apps.
Let’s say you’re applying a limit to all “Social” apps, including Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Tap its circle to highlight the category, then tap “Next.” Now, choose a length of time you’d like to grant for Social apps. If you choose one hour, your kid will have access to all of their social apps for one hour a day, collectively: 15 minutes of Instagram plus 45 minutes of Facebook Messenger, and their time is up. You’ll have the option to apply this chosen limit to every day, or customize times for each day. For example, you might want to give two hours a day on weekends instead of one.
When finished, tap “Add” to lock in your choice, then rinse and repeat for the other categories and apps of your choosing. It can be tedious, especially if you are setting limits for many individual apps, but once you’re done, you won’t have to constantly police your kid’s app use.
Now, if your kid does want more time on any of these apps, they’ll have an option to request it. You’ll see this request come through as a standard notification on your iPhone. In iOS 16, you can approve or deny the additional Screen Time request right from the alert in Messages. In previous versions of iOS, you’ll have to go to Settings > Screen Time on your device to review the request.
Don’t forget a Screen Time passcode
Here’s the part where you lock down your selections: Create a Screen Time passcode for your kid’s phone so they can’t change the setting on their own. Try not to forget it, but, if you do, you can always use your Apple ID to reset it.
Specify who they can contact during Screen Time and downtime
You’ll also want to review who your kid is allowed to talk to on their iPhone. To start, make sure Contacts on iCloud is enabled. On your kid’s phone, go to Settings, choose their name, choose iCloud, turn on Contacts, then go back to Screen Time > Communication Limits.
Apple lets you enable different settings for both regular Screen Time and downtime, so you can lock things down further when your child isn’t necessarily supposed to be using their phone.
Under “During Screen Time,” you can choose between allowing your kid to contact “Everyone,” “Contacts Only” (which would only allow communication with their contacts), or “Contacts & Groups with at Least One Contact” (which allows group chats to come through so long as there’s at least one known contact in the bunch).
Under “During Downtime,” you can choose whether to allow “Everyone” to contact your kid, or “Specific Contacts.” The latter allows you to “Choose From My Contacts,” or “Add New Contacts,” if who you want to grant access to isn’t already in your kid’s digital Rolodex.
You’ll also be able to manage your child’s contacts here, allowing you to edit, add, or delete any contacts. You can also disable Allow Contact Editing to stop your kid from being able to edit contacts on their own.
Choose contacts and apps that are always allowed, no matter what
Depending on how old your child is, you might want to go all-in on locking things down. However, even the most restricted iPhone likely needs some features enabled at all times. You don’t want your kid unable to call or message you during downtime, after all.
That’s what the Always Allowed setting is all about. It lets you choose which contacts and apps on your child’s iPhone are available at all times, including both during Screen Time and downtime. Of course, you can choose to allow very few contacts and apps into this list. Sometimes, that might simply be the Phone and Messages apps, with only parents and close family members as allowed contacts.
The Contacts section here is the same settings menu as “During Downtime” above. The apps, however, are new. Here, you can add apps to Always Allowed by tapping the green (+) next to their names, or remove apps by tapping their red (-).
Content and Privacy Restrictions
If you thought App Limits would take some time to review, this section will require some patience. It’s essentially the main control hub for all of the content and privacy settings on your kid’s phone, allowing you to choose everything from whether they’re allowed to install or delete apps, make in-app purchases, whether they can listen to explicit music, which apps have access to things like the iPhone’s camera and microphone, and whether they can change the passcode of their iPhone on their own. There are a ton of settings to go through here, and, depending on your child’s age, you might want to go through them all.
One setting that should not go under the radar, though is Web Content in Content Restrictions. Here, you can control what types of sites (or which specific sites) your kid is allowed to visit via Safari. If you choose “Allowed Websites,” Apple has a list of nine default sites that are enabled, including Apple (of course), Disney, HowStuffWorks, and PBS Kids. You can remove any of these sites by swiping left on them, or add your own sites by choosing “Add Website.”
Another important setting for kids is Reduce Loud Sounds, which can help protect their hearing when listening to loud music, or watching loud content.
Another Screen Time setting, communication safety constantly checks for any nude photos being sent to your child. If one is detected, Messages will blur the photo, and give your child resources to help them, such as reaching out to a grown up. It doesn’t block your child from viewing the photo, but it does make them confirm they want to view the image before removing the blur.
Use Ask to Buy to approve or deny purchases
You probably don’t want kids making purchases with reckless abandon on your credit card. Ask to Buy can help with that. This setting allows your kid to send a request to your iPhone whenever they want to buy something, whether that be an app, book, song, etc. You can approve or deny the request then and there.
To set it up, go to Settings > Your Name > Family Sharing, then tap your kid’s name. Tap “Ask to Buy,” then follow the on-screen instructions.
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